How Waterloo continues to evolve its technology-enabled learning

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
by ITMS Director, Andrea Chappell

Where are we now?

Waterloo’s position within the world of online learning is very solid. The use of online learning continues to grow for on-campus courses, and almost every student has an online component for multiple courses. The number of fully online enrolments and available courses increases term-after-term as well, and Faculties consider it a strategic growth area. It’s clear that students no longer perceive taking a fully online course as a “one-off”. Approximately 5000 Waterloo students take at least one fully online course in a term. And while undergraduate students are the largest group of users, graduate students and adult learners are also reaping the benefits this rich and collaborative learning environment provides.

Almost all courses use Waterloo LEARN for grades, communications, and uploading lecture materials, and over a third also use one or more LEARN tools such as discussion forums, quizzes, and drop boxes.

A collaborative approach

Supporting technology-enabled course delivery

Waterloo LEARN forms the core of the technology-enabled learning environment and is used for over 1500 on-campus courses in fall and winter terms (about 650 in spring), along with about 150 fully online courses each term. LEARN is supported through an enviable collaboration of departments that provide technical and pedagogical services, and help to establish directions in technology-enabled learning. Working in partnership to support the instructors and students and bring new tools to the learning environment are Information Systems & Technology’s (IST) Instructional Technologies and Multimedia Services (ITMS) group, who provide technical support and new tool investigations, Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) who develop the fully online courses with the Faculties, and Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) who provide pedagogical services to campus instructors.

The Faculties, Library, Bookstore, Student Success Office, Registrar, and Continuing Education and Career Services are some of the many other departments that form the collection of cooperative areas of support and collaboration for technology-enabled learning endeavours across the University.

Course development

CEL takes a team based approach when developing fully online courses and programs. Over an 8 to 12 month period, the course production and support cycle engages instructors, students, designers, developers, training and marketing staff. Within the 70 staff that work within CEL developing online courses, there is a large pool of co-op students hired each year. For on-campus course development support, instructors can enlist the advice of the CTE to help achieve their teaching goals and design effective learning activities. As with fully online courses, course instructors may use tools such as e-portfolios, peer review tools, videos created with Camtasia, live presentations using Adobe Connect, recorded lectures, symbolic and computational math problems with MapleTA, to complement their use of LEARN. CTE also provides opportunities for instructors to connect and share their experiences.

What’s next?

Identified as a strategic initiative in Waterloo’s 2014 Strategic Plan, online learning is a top priority. Waterloo’s content experts and service providers will continue to engage each other as they investigate and assess the value of “hot topics” in online learning, including learning analytics, adaptive learning (e.g., in MOOCs and with “big data”), and evolving content sources, including open content.

As we delve deeper into this innovative style of learning, emphasis must also be placed on sustaining this framework. Evidenced-based guidelines and best practices will be invaluable to ensuring the highest quality learning experience possible.

Stay tuned as we continue to explore new and exciting opportunities related to technology-enabled learning!